Boris Johnson at COVID Inquiry: 'I Should Have Twigged'

Former UK prime minister says his government 'got some things wrong' but did its best
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 6, 2023 8:35 AM CST
Boris Johnson at COVID Inquiry: Hey, We Tried
This image taken from the UK COVID-19 Inquiry live stream shows former British prime minister Boris Johnson giving evidence at Dorland House in London, Wednesday Dec. 6, 2023, during its second investigation (Module 2) exploring core UK decision-making and political governance.   (UK COVID-19 Inquiry via AP)

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended his handling of COVID-19 on Wednesday at a public inquiry into the pandemic, saying his government "got some things wrong" but did its best. Johnson began two days of questioning under oath by lawyers for the judge-led inquiry about his initial reluctance to impose a national lockdown in early 2020 and other fateful decisions, reports the AP. Johnson opened his testimony with an apology "for the pain and the loss and the suffering of the COVID victims," though not for any of his own actions. Four people stood up in court as he spoke, holding signs saying: "The Dead can't hear your apologies," before being escorted out by security staff.

"Inevitably, in the course of trying to handle a very, very difficult pandemic in which we had to balance appalling harms on either side of the decision, we may have made mistakes," Johnson said. "Inevitably, we got some things wrong. I think we were doing our best at the time." Among those wanting answers from the inquiry are families of some of the more than 230,000 people in the UK who died after contracting the virus—one of the highest death tolls in Europe. Johnson had arrived at the inquiry venue at daybreak, several hours before he was due to take the stand, avoiding a protest by relatives of some of the victims.

Johnson said he was "not sure" whether his government's decisions caused excess deaths, though the BBC reports he did say the UK should have "twigged much sooner"—that is, realized the risks—"I should have twigged." The New York Times reports Johnson is expected to explain "how he navigated between ministers like [current Prime Minister Rishi] Sunak, who warned about the damage of shutting down Britain's economy, and influential aides like Dominic Cummings, who urged Mr. Johnson to impose swift, prolonged lockdowns." Johnson was pushed out of office by his own Conservative Party in mid-2022 after multiple ethics scandals, including the revelation that he and staff members held parties in the prime minister's Downing Street offices in 2020 and 2021.

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Johnson agreed in late 2021 to hold a public inquiry after heavy pressure from bereaved families. The probe, led by retired Judge Heather Hallett, is expected to take three years to complete, though interim reports will be issued starting next year. Former colleagues, aides, and advisers have painted an unflattering picture of Johnson and his government over weeks of testimony. In diaries that have been seen as evidence, Former Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said Johnson was "obsessed with older people accepting their fate." Cummings said the then-prime minister asked scientists whether blowing a hair dryer up his nose could kill the virus, while Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the country's top civil servant, called Johnson and his inner circle "basically feral."

(More Boris Johnson stories.)

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